RTA 14: The Awakening

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The green safety helmets of the THUMS oil crews catch your eye as the maroon ferry slows to port. Black and blonde men, familiar types, overweight and ruddy, tie ropes or prepare to jump onto the dock with great bags of unknown equipment and junk. A few seagulls caw cranky and settle on posts and pipes, still shrieking. The sun has begun to set in long flares of orange and yellow.

Grandma is already nearly out of the back seat while I expand her wheelchair from the trunk and roll it on the pale planks of the dock. She must be feeling livelier than I thought; I even detect a little impatience from her.

Eyes notice us but then they see our green passes – I suppose not a lot of people do visit the oil islands.

A short man holding a large phone or walkie-talkie approaches us, and to my surprise, talks to Grandma.

The man smiles at me insincerely and takes the handles of the wheelchair from. He pushes her up a large grey wedge his crew has kicked into place and onto a gateway of the ferryboat. I follow – what do I know?

I have to admit I thought I would feel so much more relaxed at this moment, for in fact, I am repeating a fond childhood memory. We’re visiting the oil islands my family was so proud of, but I’m not feeling comfortable, never mind sentimental. Grandpa Finster stands tall, his thin hair blown in the sea wind. He holds my hand.

I settle in on a bench and lean my head against an orange ring bouy. An insignificant wave laps up against the boat (I saw that it’s been named The Slicker) and a spit of water and salt foam ends up in my face and arm. A squealing horn blows awful for two seconds, and the ferry engine roars back to full, pushing us away from Marina Parking Drive Drive and California land and all its pastel and happy inhabitants.

I click the lock on my car’s remote keychain and listen for the chirp, like the biggest landlubbing fool.

To my surprise, Grandma is not in the cabin but at starboard, carrying on a conversation with the short man. He’s tanned and middle aged, with loose folds of skin behind his neck and that bristly old person hair, dried up and absent of any describable, known color. Fisherman’s Grey, I decide.

“Ian, I’m glad you made it. Sorry you’re in a pickle but I know you’ll be fine.”

I’m shaken out of my foolishness and barely processing the words. I look up and it’s the short man, who I now recognize completely as someone from the Endboss Cardroom. A gambler at the craps tables? A VIP? How could it be?

The man smiles yet again and walks away. Grandma is sitting not in her wheelchair, but on a grey metal bench next to the cabin, her legs crossed. She is pulling a long, thin cigarette from a little puffy box. Her black eyes rest on me and she inhales a mighty breath. I feel the strong desire for another funny bear, even though I’ve had far too many.

We pass the little boats and kids on floats and into sight of Island Gifford. The Slicker does not stop, though, and as if changing its mind now veers us into the sunset.

I look back at Grandma. Now she is surrounded by the short man and three others, all listening to her. Waves are heavier now, and the ferry heaves a bit, up and then down. I hold the taffrail helplessly.

Grandma, however, merely recrosses her legs, leans and lets the short man light her cigarette.

Grandma is sitting upright – I did not know she could do this. Or any of this. She is saying something, speaking quickly, when her black eyes meet mine. She is still talking and pointing at me.

The men look at me and nod. They step into a semi-circle to get a better view of me, as if at a poker table. That’s when I recognize the ferry workers as regs from the Endboss.

Grandma gestures again, and the short man barks out something. I can’t seem to hear anything.

A funny bear falls soundlessly from my fingers; hadn’t realized it was in my hand. The waves are wild and I am seasick. The ferry regs step toward me.

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